In recent years, the popularity of crime scene investigation as a career has risen substantially, due to the prominence of investigators in pop culture and TV. Many have been inspired by these shows to pursue a career in criminal justice, but may be unaware of the process necessary to pursue this career path. In fact, many may not even be aware of what an actual crime scene investigator’s job entails.
What is a Crime Scene Investigator?
A crime scene investigator (CSI) is a division of a law enforcement agency that is typically tasked with collecting, identify, gathering, and preserving all relevant physical evidence at the scene of a crime.
It is important to note that the term “crime scene investigator” is actually a fairly broad term that encompasses a wide range of jobs within the criminal justice system. There are many CSIs with specialized duties and titles; this can include:
- Crime scene technicians
- Forensic technicians
- Photographers and sketch artists
- Experts in specific types of evidence, such as DNA, fingerprints, ballistics, etc.
Not all CSIs are trained or certified in all of the above specialties. For example, not all crime scene investigators actually analyze the evidence they collect and run tests – much of the time, this is left to forensics scientists, technicians, and other professionals tasked with deciphering the evidence.
Additionally, within forensics there can be further specialization, with some focusing on biology, while others on chemistry and other subsets of science.
What Does a Crime Scene Investigator Do?
Generally, a crime scene investigator is tasked with:
- Communicating with other law enforcement officials to discuss the scene of the crime
- Mark off the scene to prevent contamination
- Collecting and packaging any physical evidence they may find
- Keeping detailed reports and logs of each crime scene
- Communicating with forensics specialists to determine which evidence may need further testing or analysis
In some circumstances, CSIs may also be called to testify in trial based on any evidence they may have found or analyzed.
What Education and Training is Necessary to Become a Crime Scene Investigator?
Although the requirements for a crime scene investigator can vary widely from state to state, agency to agency, and even from precinct to precinct, all positions typically require a specific amount of education and training – plus any additional certifications necessary to hold the job.
A College Degree
In general, most CSI positions require 2-4 years of higher education with either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Most law enforcement agencies seek individuals who have a comprehensive education of the criminal justice system, relevant forensics procedures, and natural sciences. As a result, most seek candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in either criminal justice or forensic justice. Although some agencies may hire CSIs with an associate’s degree or even a high school diploma or GED, these are by and large fairly rare.
Those that seek to specialize in certain aspects of crime scene investigation or want to further advance their CSI career often pursue further education in the form of master’s degree programs or post-graduate studies.
Other alternative forms of education include classes and training events from notable national criminal justice and forensics organizations.
- The National Institute of Justice often holds training events that go over any materials on forensics and crime scene investigation.
- The National Forensic Science Technology Center provides training courses and classes for various law enforcement agencies, touching on everything from basic crime scene investigation to DNA testing procedures.
Additionally, many traditional universities offer certificate programs related to criminal justice and crime scene investigation. Although these provide considerably less specialization education than a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree, they can nonetheless be valuable for those pursuing further education for their CSI career.
On-the-job training is arguably the most important type of training required, providing valuable experience that otherwise cannot be found elsewhere. Crime scene investigation is a unique job that is difficult to replicate virtually or through academics. Learning at a crime scene and working together with law enforcement, forensics professionals, and other CSIs is vital experience for a prospective crime scene investigator to have. In order to gain this valuable insight, many apply for internships or similar positions. Some agencies even offer internships with the possibility of being a permanent hire after a specific trial period.
Are There Any Certifications That Are Required to Become a CSI?
Many law enforcement agencies require some form of certification by any crime scene investigators – typically within 18 months of hiring. However, these requirements can vary greatly from state to state and even agency to agency.
- Indiana requires all CSIs be certified through its Crime Scene Certification committee. This is a rigorous certification that involves submitting experience of five different types of crime scene investigations, along with at least 120 hours of crime-scene-related training.
- In California, some CSI positions require the passing of the California Criminalist Examination, a test that covers the basic scientific methods involved in crime scene investigation.
Most states and agencies require certification based on the standards set by the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). Both the IAI and the ICSIA provide CSI certifications that are widely recognized around the world as the industry standard.
Crime Scene Investigation Requires Continuing Education
Even if one achieves a job in crime scene investigation, it is important to keep in mind that it is a career of continuous learning and training. Even upon certification, it is important to note that all qualified crime scene investigators must be recertified every set amount of years if they wish to continue pursuing their career. Additionally, CSIs must keep up with advancements in the science and technology involved in forensics analysis and criminal justice.
Although training and education are required to become a crime scene investigator, both are also required to continue pursuing such a career.